(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)
Are the employees at your small business stressed out? They probably are.
But if that’s the case, then you’re not alone. Last year, 94% of American workers reported that they experienced stress at their workplace, according to a study from Wrike, a collaborative workplace management application. At least 23 percent of the respondents described their stress levels as high, and 6 percent said it was unreasonably high.
Unfortunately, the problem isn’t getting any better. Just last month, a whopping 88 percent of professionals surveyed by executive-search firm Korn Ferry said that, compared to five years ago, the stress level in their workplace was higher, with 51 percent saying it is “much higher.”
Stress can come from many sources — a bad boss, tight deadlines, uncomfortable working conditions — and it can cause health problems, from heart and panic attacks to hypertension. Respondents in the Korn Ferry study said that work-related stress caused loss of sleep and made them call out sick. Besides unhappiness, too much stress can affect productivity and can in some cases lead to employees quitting. None of this is good for any company, particularly a small business where even the absence or loss of one good employee can have a significant impact.
“A stress-free work environment is hard to achieve, as a certain level of pressure (or stress) is healthy to push the workforce to achieve the company’s revenue goals,” said Sarah Slate, a Philadelphia-based independent human resources consultant. “However, when the scale tips to constant stress or fear of the unknown, performance and morale can be negatively affected and cause an unmotivated, unproductive team.”
Larger companies know this and many take actions to make their work environment as stress-free as possible, such as providing recreation spaces, wellness programs, quiet areas, and even nap pods for their employees. But unfortunately, those can be out of the price range for many small-business owners. But there are still plenty of options.
Some local companies, such as Nielsen-Kellerman Co., a Boothwyn manufacturer of sports performance electronics and environmental instruments, to let their employees work from home, set work hours to better fit their schedule, and even accommodate a four-day workweek for some.
“Our flexible work environment allows employees to balance both professional and personal priorities,” said Morgan Lewis, the company’s director of human resources. “Stress is unavoidable in the workplace, and we continue to assess our strategy to ease some of that pressure for employees so that they continue to enjoy coming to work each day.”
Nielsen-Kellerman also leans heavily on technology. The company has invested in 15five, a mobile platform that allows employees to communicate to managers the tasks and projects they’re juggling and share with managers how they are feeling about their workload. They’ve also created their own measurement tool which they call the Nielsen-Kellerman Predictive Index.
“We use this tool for hiring purposes and throughout the employee life cycle,” Lewis says. “It helps us understand the work styles and behaviors of individuals and teams and provides us with an understanding of each employee so that managers are better equipped to provide effective guidance.”
But it’s not just about technology. It’s also about culture.
Carolyn Van Fleet, the HR director at the Hankin Group, a property developer based in Exton, lists a potpourri of things her company does to make the workplace more relaxing: complimentary memberships to a local gym, wellness seminars, mindfulness meditation, nutrition classes, and a flu clinic. She says her company also focuses on employee recognition and provides opportunities for employees to get out of the office and help the community, including volunteer activities, employee luncheons, Phillies games, and happy hours.
Probably what’s most important, at least to me, is communication. I’ve found that the more an employee keeps a problem bottled up, the more chance it has to turn into something negative, and that creates stress.
Human resource consultants such as Slate encourage clients to implement performance review systems that provide frequent, live feedback from managers regarding goals, objectives and reactions regarding an employee’s performance during daily conversations and consistent weekly status meetings. “Oftentimes, companies do not invest in the necessary training and development needed for their mid-level management team, which can be a disservice to their employee base” she said.
There’s no such thing as a stress-free job, and there’s no employer that can completely eliminate stress from an employee’s life. But even taking small, reasonable actions to create a better work/life balance and a more hassle-free work environment can lead to a more productive and happier employee. In these times, when good people are in high demand and losing a valuable worker can be devastating to a small business, taking these actions is more important than ever.